The Distance in my Mind

Angst, envy, anger, heartbreak - all of what I felt, I had the hardest time explaining to my parents.

Photo by Pxhere
Photo by Pxhere

By Chau Nguyen

My family first moved to America in 1992, about 20 years after the Vietnam War had ended. My parents left their entire family behind in Vietnam and flew over 18 hours with a couple of suitcases, limited knowledge of English and money received from family members. Soon, my siblings started school and began to learn English, and my parents followed suit by attending free community college English classes. But they eventually stopped taking these classes after I was born for their entire world now revolved around me.

"My parents left their entire family behind in Vietnam and flew over 18 hours with a couple of suitcases, limited knowledge of English and money received from family members."

My parents were in their late 40s and early 50s when they first came to America. This made it harder for them to learn English. But when my parents weren't learning English, they were able to teach me Vietnamese. To this day, I am incredibly thankful to be able to communicate with my parents since they gave me a good foundation and understanding of the Vietnamese language. Basic words and small sentences grew into more in-depth vocabulary and I was eventually able to grow up fluently speaking the two languages.

Photo of Chau Nguyen, 6 years old at Washington D.C.
Photo of Chau Nguyen, 6 years old at Washington D.C.

However, even when I thought I knew enough to verbally communicate with my parents, I found myself hesitant to communicate my emotions with them. The root cause of this hesitancy came from the large generation gap between me and my parents. My mom had me when she was 44 years old and my dad was 52, which put them in a difficult situation. They were taking care of a baby at a late age, as well as adapting to the American lifestyle. As I grew older, I could tell how large of a strain this gap played in my relationship with my parents.

I would pick arguments and grew frustrated with my parents when I couldn't explain certain ways that I felt. Angst, envy, anger, heartbreak - all of what I felt, I had the hardest time explaining to my parents. Even though I had different outlets to talk about my feelings, I wanted my parents to understand what I was going through because it was important and something that shouldn't be brushed off.

My junior year was when I became more self-conscious. I had a mouth full of braces, experienced young teen love and heartbreak and faced puberty. However, the worst part was when I struggled to accept my body. I would get comments from family friends telling me that "I would look better if I lost a couple more pounds." My mom would also give me comments about how I should watch what I ate and that I should find time to work out more to slim down. These comments filtered down into my head, and I started to think that I was fat and overweight. Saying these things to a teenage girl who was still trying to find her place in life was soul crushing. I became less connected to my parents, especially my mom, and I eventually suppressed my feelings about how I viewed myself. I fell into a spiral counting calories because I thought I could become prettier and thinner by doing so. I never found the courage to tell anyone in my family how I felt.

Photo of Chau Nguyen, 14 years old at Workman High School in Arlington
Photo of Chau Nguyen, 14 years old at Workman High School in Arlington

Years passed and I finally found self-acceptance within myself. It took a lot of willpower, but I never discussed these matters with my parents. Specifically, I've tried to talk about my body image with my mom, but she never understood where this insecurity came from. Every insecurity I brought up, she would argue that she never had to deal with these problems when she was younger because she was busy taking care of her family. This generation gap made it so much harder for us to develop our relationship because she couldn't sympathize with me. Even to this day, she could never understand my struggles, but I could also never understand what she went through either. I tried to bridge this age gap between me and my parents by being a better listener. I would ask them what they've had to go through when they were younger, and I tried to explain to them what I had to go through right now as a college student.

It's still hard to relate to my parents or make them understand the specific stressors I have, but I know they're trying. I can't say that I have an easier time telling my parents that I'm stressing about college, bills, or personal life but I've been taking small steps by calling my parents as much as I can. Transparency has been the best solution for me to bridge this generation gap and there's still a lot of room for my relationship with my parents to grow, but there's also room for me to grow as a person as well.

Photo of Chau Nguyen, 18 years old at Dallas Arboretum
Photo of Chau Nguyen, 18 years old at Dallas Arboretum

Photos by Chau Nguyen

Chau Nguyen is a sophomore public health student at the University of Texas at Austin.